Historical records matching David Woolf Marks, Rev Prof
About David Woolf Marks, Rev Prof
Rev Prof David Woolf Marks (22 November 1811 – 3 May 1909) was a Hebrew scholar and an English rabbi of Reform Judaism. He served as professor of belles-lettres at Wigan College, Liverpool, and professor of Hebrew at University College London. He is notable for devising the order of service used by the Reform synagogues of the time.
After acting as assistant reader at the Western Synagogue, St Alban's Place, Haymarket, he became assistant reader and secretary to Liverpool's Hebrew congregation in 1833. In 1840 Marks became the first rabbi of the West London Synagogue of British Jews and served in that post until 1895.
Marks was born in London, the eldest son of Woolf Marks, merchant, and his wife, Mary.
He and his wife Cecilia Sarah (née Woolf; 15 July 1818 – 19 October 1882) were married on 14 December 1842. They had two daughters and four sons. One son, Harry Marks, was MP for the Isle of Thanet and proprietor and editor of the Financial News.
Professor Marks & the Oral Law controversy Paper by Rabbi Raymond Apple delivered at the Australian Association of Jewish Studies Conference, Auckland, July, 2008.
The first minister of London’s Reform Synagogue was David Woolf Marks (1811-1909), whom a colleague, Isidore Harris, described as a “self-taught genius”. Born in London on 22 November, 1811, Marks was the eldest child of Woolf and Mary Marks and was not yet 10 when his father, a merchant, died in July, 1821. The boy’s education was undertaken by the Chevrat Giddul Yetomim, an Orphan Aid Society whose wards were sent to the Jews’ Free School, established by the London Ashkenazi community in 1817. The school educated about a hundred boys in a dark and unpleasant building in Ebenezer Square. Educational levels were unimpressive; the pupils received only the bare elements of English, arithmetic and Hebrew, though the headmaster gave extra lessons to the best boys. The school could have accommodated more pupils, but the poorer classes preferred their children to hawk oranges and pencils in the streets.
Marks came with some Hebrew knowledge, and from his first day at school was already tutoring the younger boys. The best boys had extra Hebrew lessons from Michael Goldsmid, a chandler in Rosemary Lane. When Marks recited a Hebrew ode at a Free School supporters’ dinner, he “drew tears”. He read the Torah portion at the school services and recited the Mourners’ Kaddish at funerals, for which he received ten pounds a year and a suit of mourning clothes. He became a protege of Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschell, who, with some “learned foreigners”, gave him lessons in Hebraic literature. He also read the Mishnah for Mrs Hirschell, who was blind. For a time Marks was even acting head of the school when the principal, Sylvester Solomon, was ill.
Five years as a pupil-teacher at Henry N Solomon’s boarding school in Hammersmith were followed by an appointment as ba’al k’ri’ah (synagogue Torah reader) at the St. Alban’s (Western) Synagogue, London, at twelve guineas a year. In 1833 he moved to Liverpool as assistant reader and secretary and gained general ministerial experience whilst applying himself to gaining a broad knowledge of literature.
Still in his twenties, he became a professor at Wigan College in Liverpool. The term professor carried little status, unlike his later appointment as Professor of Hebrew at University College, London. The fact that a man without a degree could be a professor reflects the rarity and expense of university education and the inability of professing Jews until 1871 to proceed to a degree except at University College, founded in 1826 on condition that no religious test was required. Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschell, often called “Doctor Hirschell”, had neither a doctorate nor much modern knowledge. Late in life Marks received an honorary DD from the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.
In Liverpool Marks would not officiate on the rabbinically-introduced second days of the festivals of Pesach, Shavu’ot and Sukkot, demonstrating his lack of sympathy with orthodoxy. This, together with his friendship with the barrister John (later Serjeant Sir John) Simon, to whom he taught Hebrew, presaged his career in the reform movement; Simon secured Marks’ appointment as minister of the reform congregation. This came about largely as a result of a letter Marks sent him on 29 October, 1840, concerning the anti-Jewish accusations of a “wily adversary” who alleged that it was the Jews’ own religion that gave them a bad name. Marks wrote, “The Jew can never fight free of this charge, until he at once throws off all the trammels of the Rabbins and stands boldly forward, clothed in all the native purity and pristine majesty of the eternal Law of Moses”. Now came what is tantamount to an application for appointment: “Were I once firmly placed as Minister to our new Congregation, tho’ my flock numbered but ten souls, then should I have authority to reply to these and similar accusations.” He was prepared to “admit at once that many institutions and observances have been introduced by the Rabbins, perhaps with good intent, but which have had the effect of perverting the pure principles of Judaism”. He instanced the Kol Nidrei formula on Yom Kippur, and the Pesach passage, “Pour out thy wrath upon the goyim“, though this verse clearly targets “the nations that know Thee not” (Psalm 79:6), and he was ready to accept the worst construction of the meaning of Kol Nidrei. He added, “Until I be placed in that position that can give some authority to my opinions, I must hold my tongue, however it may grieve my soul…”
Marks’ letter became known in London and brought speedy results – not that it quietened the gentile critics who opposed Jewish emancipation, though later on Marks did play a role in achieving parliamentary privileges for Jews – but it showed him to be a highly articulate young man capable of standing up for his principles.
The twenty-four Sephardi and Ashkenazi proponents of reform were mostly from four patrician families, the Montefiores, Goldsmids, Henriques and Mocattas. Dissatisfied with the long, indecorous services at the established synagogues, they thought at first they could effect improvement from within. They were pragmatists, less interested in theology than the practicalities of synagogue decorum and prayer services. This was the general picture, but others, and certainly Marks, had a broader agenda which united pragmatic and ideological considerations.
Probably the leading thinker amongst the group was the lawyer Francis (later Sir Francis) Goldsmid, who saw the Jewish position in English society as intricately bound up with the ways Jews practised their religion. Goldsmid and his family were to become eminent figures in the reform community and to exercise a significant influence on Marks’ own career. One of Marks’ few writings was in fact the first section of a biography of Goldsmid. In tracts, speeches and other communications, Goldsmid had urged Jews to tone down their reliance on the Talmud if they desired and expected political emancipation. Even sympathetic outsiders were arguing that Talmudical tradition – especially in connection with Kol Nidrei - made it difficult to accept the oath of a Jew. The fact that Kol Nidrei really was concerned with rash vows made to God, not promises made to human beings, was beside the point. It gave the reformers a pressing reason to re-assess Jewish teachings and the authority of the Talmud. So the agenda was wider than liturgy, and even before Marks joined the movement, a new congregation, on less than traditional principles and with formulated doctrines, was bound to emerge.
The initial intention was to import a rabbi from elsewhere and they asked the rationalist historian Isaac Marcus Jost, a Reform supporter, to help them find one.
When this proved unsuccessful they appointed Marks. It may have surprised them to find the man they wanted in England, even though he lacked official rabbinical qualifications. He remained in office for 60 years, espousing a style of reform which later generations tend to regard as mild and polite, though at the time it infuriated the community leadership. The arguments on both sides of the Oral Law debate will be summarised in a moment, but in the meantime it is telling to note that a pamphlet issued in 1842 with the title, “Is the Oral Law of Divine Origin and Therefore Binding Upon the Jews? … by One of Themselves”, began by referring to “the now again agitated question of the Divinity of the Divine Law” and led to vigorous exchanges in the Jewish press.
Marks’ discourse at the consecration of the Reform Synagogue on 27 January, 1842, was unambiguous though somewhat inaccurate in its depiction of the rabbinic tradition: “We solemnly deny that a belief in the divinity of those traditions written in the Mishnah and the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmud is of equal obligation to the Israelite with the faith in the divinity of the Laws of Moses… These books are human compositions; and, though we are content to accept with reverence, advice and instruction from our post-biblical ancestors, we cannot unconditionally accept their laws. For Israelites there is but One immutable Law – the sacred volume of the Scriptures commanded by God to be written down for the unerring guidance of His people until the end of time.” There followed a virtual declaration of independence: “Every Hebrew congregation must be authorised to take such measures as shall bring the divine services into consonance with the will of the Almighty, as explained to us in the Law and in the Prophets.”
In the midst of a debate that was heavy with words like “heresy”, “schism” and “secession”, Marks received an accolade, and the congregation an occasion for prestige, thanks to the Goldsmid connection. In 1844 Hyman Hurwitz needed to be replaced as professor of Hebrew at University College. Marks secured the position even though the academic committee preferred the better qualified Dr Louis Loewe, but Loewe was a protege of Sir Moses Montefiore, who was not on good terms with his kinsman Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid, who had great influence at University College.
Marks retained this office until he was a very old man. He was dean of the college from 1875-77 and for a time also professor of Hebrew at Regents Park Baptist College. Though not a great scholar he had a level of competence seen, for example, in the Hebraic sources he marshalled for a lecture on the history of Jewish preaching, and in the footnotes to his published sermons which show he could handle a number of languages. He was a member of the Hibbert Trust and a trustee of Dr Williams’ Library. His successor at University College, as Israel Cohen, his last student, says, “was Dr Solomon Schechter, the very antithesis of his ancient predecessor – alive, learned and witty”.
Montefiore and the orthodox gentry were particularly angry that the reformers came from their own group. Montefiore showed considerable rancour because his own brother Horatio was involved. He believed that the reformers were selling their birthright for pottage: he wrote in his diary, “I am most firmly determined not to give up the smallest part of our religious forms and privileges to obtain civil rights”. He wrote to Francis Goldsmid, “I do not consider the place of worship in Burton Street referred to by you to be a synagogue”. He blocked the Reform Synagogue’s membership of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which was not achieved until the 1880s. When the reformers sought registration for the solemnisation of marriages, he influenced members of the House of Commons against the proposal. Marks campaigned against him and secured the registration on condition that twenty professing Jews certified that West London was a synagogue. It took decades for the communal bitterness to subside and for the families to be reunited. In 1871 Marks told an audience in Edinburgh, “The new movement produced bitter feelings and angry excitement (but) time and mature reflection have now arranged all intemperate feelings”. By 1891 West London was so accepted on the scene that it was even suggested that they participate in electing a new chief rabbi to succeed Nathan Marcus Adler. As a matter of course, orthodox as well as reform leaders attended the jubilee service at West London on 27 January, 1892. Sir Hermann Gollancz said on Marks’ death in 1909 that the original demands of the reform group were relatively minor and could have been handled in a “spirit of conciliation and… toleration” leading to a modus vivendi.
In time the reform agenda was overtaken by the liberal movement which was refused permission to hold services at the reform synagogue unless they seated men and women separately, prayed in Hebrew and followed other traditional practices. In 1892 Marks said he still believed in the original principles of his congregation, though they now omitted prayers for the restoration of sacrifices and since 1851 had used an organ on Sabbaths and festivals, on the precedent of the instrumental music in the Temple. After outgrowing rented premises in Burton Street, St Pancras, they had built a synagogue in Margaret Street, Cavendish Square, and in September, 1870, opened a magnificent building in Upper Berkeley Street. Unaware that something more radical was coming, Marks thought reform had reached its final stage “as far as the term finality can be predicated in human affairs”. On 26 January, 1917, 75 years after the opening of the Burton Street Synagogue, The Jewish Chronicle said that “virtually all the bitterness of the Reform controversy has – Heaven be praised! – passed”, but added a sting in the tail that “Reform has made no important constructive contribution to the religious life of the community”.
What had the 1840 Seceders really wanted? Geography mattered to them more than theology. The establishment congregations were determined to maintain their hegemony regardless of the growing number of Jews who lived in the West End and had to trudge to the City on the Sabbath. Decorum was more important than liturgy. Ashkenazim and Sephardim both suffered long, indecorous and unintelligible services, with hardly any sermons, and the constant fear of even the tiniest liturgical change. Yet theology did play a part. Though the Seceders did not question the Bible, they were impatient with the oral Law and felt that without rabbinic exegesis and enactments Judaism would be purer.
Reform had commenced in Amsterdam in 1796. In Seesen, Israel Jacobson introduced prayers, hymns and sermons in the vernacular. He had an organ on Sabbaths and festivals as well as a choir. In Hamburg some of the orthodox called the reform group “neither Jews nor Christians, but people without faith”. In Breslau, Abraham Geiger was bitterly criticised for rejecting the authority of the Talmud and questioning a number of traditional practices.
Some London Jews had been to reform services in Hamburg, and Anna Maria Goldsmid translated into English the sermons of Gotthold Salomon of Hamburg. In Bradford there were German Jews who practised a revised Judaism which they brought with them, and in Manchester Professor Tobias Theodores had some support for his reform ideas. In London, a petition to the Spanish and Portuguese congregational council (the Mahamad) in 1836 asked for “such alterations and modifications as were in the line of changes introduced in the reform synagogue in Hamburg and other places”.
An inaugural meeting was held by the reform faction at the Bedford Hotel in Southampton Row on 15 April, 1840. They decided to “form a United Congregation (i.e. neither ‘German’ nor ‘Portuguese’) under the denomination of British Jews”, and to establish a synagogue “in the Western part of the metropolis” with “a revised service… at hours more suited to our habits, and in a manner more calculated to inspire feelings of devotion, where Religious instruction may be afforded by competent persons”.
A new prayer-book was Marks’ first challenge. It attempted to unite Sephardi and Ashkenazi liturgy and aimed to enable “the house of prayer (to) exercise that salutary influence over the minds and hearts of congregants which it is capable and intended to exert”. Removing Talmudic influences did not prove easy because some texts had an emotional flavour. A revised Passover Haggadah without rabbinic passages and usages was unfamiliar and unsettling, so it was quietly abandoned. The lighting of Sabbath candles was also maintained by members of the congregation, even though Marks assured them that it was not in the Pentateuch. They used the Kaddish in Aramaic, though Marks wanted it in Hebrew. He was not always consistent: he urged the congregation to fast on Tishah B’Av “although not scripturally ordained”. He said that Chanukah and Purim, though resting “on human authority”, should be observed, but without a b’rachah (benediction), which would imply a Divine command. He argued against t’fillin (phylacteries) which, though based on the Bible, were given form and shape by the rabbis, but on Tishah B’Av afternoon he and some of his congregation wore t’fillin “in accordance with the usage of the most rigid sticklers for Rabbinical authority”.
Individuals were likely to decide for themselves about t’fillin, but the second days of festivals were a public expression of identity, and the debate about the second days was highly inflamed. Sermons and tracts emanated from both sides, headed respectively by Marks and Nathan Marcus Adler. Adler had more learning, but Marks was the more effective controversialist. The disputes, however, quietened down as time went on and the movement never became as radical as in Germany and the USA. Men and women sat separately, references to Zion were maintained, men’s heads were covered, and doctrines such as a personal Messiah were retained. Nor did the movement question the text and authority of the Bible, as was done by the liberal Jewish Religious Union, sparked by Claude Goldsmid Montefiore’s Hibbert Lectures of 1892.
When the Sephardi Seceders wrote to the Spanish and Portuguese wardens on 24 August, 1841, announcing that a new congregation was about to be formed in the West End with a revised form of service, the Sephardi and Ashkenazi rabbinic authorities condemned the new prayer book, calling it theologically unacceptable: they said that changing the prayers and other practices undermined the whole of Judaism. A ban endorsed by the wardens of the congregations was held back in the hope that the mutiny would peter out.
“The Voice of Jacob” reported on 16 September, 1841: “On Thursday evening last, the Ecclesiastical Council, the Board of Deputies, and the Wardens of several Synagogues, attended the summons of the chief Rabbi. Notwithstanding the serious indisposition of that venerable functionary, the meeting remained in deliberation until a late hour; Sir Moses Montefiore performing the duties of chairman. The most unfounded and conflicting rumours are in circulation as to the course resolved upon at the meeting. Under the peculiar circumstances of the case, nothing can be allowed prematurely to transpire; but the well known prudence and moderation of our spiritual head, and that brotherly love and right feeling, which have ever characterised our people, will be found strongly impressed upon the decisions of this important meeting, when the time shall have arrived for the publication of them.”
Two tenets were at stake: the principles laid down in Deut. 17: 8-11, requiring those with a question to go to “the judge that shall be in those days” and to comply with his ruling; and the prohibition against altering “the coin which the sages minted”. The Seceders however made their own decisions without consulting authorities or precedents. They chose the prayers that appealed to them and omitted others, for instance those about angels. In the Amidah the invocation of punishment on slanderers (introduced to demarcate Jews from the Judeo-Christians) was omitted. They rejected rabbinical innovations such as Kol Nidrei, though saying Hallel, reading the Book of Esther on Purim and lighting candles on Chanukah were maintained without the benediction which declared that God commanded these practices. The Aramaic Kaddish was changed to Hebrew, congregants were not called to the Torah and instead of cantorial music, the service was declaimed by the minister. The Ten Commandments were recited, though the rabbis had warned against supporting the Christian claim that the Decalogue but not the other commandments, was Divine.
The Voice of Jacob of 12 November has a headline, “The attempt to establish a synagogue on principles opposed to our laws and customs”. Discussion is postponed “in the hope that some of the few, well-meaning but misguided individuals, who are understood to countenance the attempt, will have withdrawn that countenance in the interval”. On 26 November, the paper has a pejorative heading, “Alledged Progress of London Jews Towards Christianity”. It refers to “the attempt of a few gentlemen, of the West End section of the town, to form a synagogue there, with certain omissions from the established liturgy, and in contravention of the regulations of one of the London congregations, of which they have been and are yet members… These gentlemen are not known as a congregation, but as an association, deeming itself qualified to abrogate the customs which Israelites have observed for centuries… While the almost universal feeling condemns this movement as the presumptuous attempt of a handful of laymen, and while therefore there need be no apprehension of the evil spreading, the only wise policy would be to treat the attempt as neither formidable by numbers, by status (at least theological), nor otherwise possessing a single element of union.”
On 24 December there is a heading, “The attempt to establish a secession synagogue in London”, with a relatively conciliatory tone though still believing that the reform group was unlikely to wield any influence: a vain hope in the light of the eminent surnames of the Seceders. The latter must have felt some satisfaction that most synagogues were now improving their procedures and introducing regular sermons. But it was too late to think of reconciliation in the light of Marks’ sermons and the new prayer book. No longer could the movement be brushed aside as a temporary nuisance or be thought of as wanting nothing more than liturgical reform and geographical convenience.
Before long a writer in the JC, mocking the attempt to break down the division between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, called Marks “the minister of the British Jews’ Chapel”. Nonetheless Marks retained friends in the orthodox community such as Rev DA De Sola of the Sephardi congregation. When the rabbinic authorities published their ban, the Western Synagogue, together with Manchester and Liverpool, refused to read it out and Plymouth burnt it. The Western Synagogue urged Sir Moses Montefiore to “close rather than widen the breach”, but Montefiore did not relent, and difficulties were placed in the way of weddings and funerals being conducted by the West London Synagogue. Apart from the need to secure parliamentary legislation to enable West London to be registered for marriages, the reformers were at first denied burial by the ministers of the Great Synagogue even if they had remained financial members.
Marks did not leave his theology to implication and innuendo. On 27 January, 1842, he spelled out his views in an anti-Oral Law sermon. As a polemic it is skilful and not unlearned. It commences with a Biblical quotation and we soon sense how the preacher will apply his text. Marks insists that the establishment of the congregation was not motivated by rejection but by love of Judaism. It did not seek innovation for its own sake but in order to safeguard the spirit of Judaism and make it respected by Jews and gentiles alike. It did not “impugn” the traditional sources but saw them as “a valuable aid”. Marks argues that the Talmud has passages that are inspired and therefore Divine, but others are marred by the circumstances of their time.
He says the Talmud is also marred by “heterogeneous opinions and metaphysical disquisitions” which have no place in the modern world, and by practices that are now obsolete, especially “double festivals” of which the first day is commanded in the Bible and the second arose before the development of sophisticated calendrical calculations. There is a list of principles according to which the congregation will conduct its services, and the community is assured that West London will play its part in communal charities.
When Nathan Marcus Adler became chief rabbi – though a “paladin of orthodoxy”, he was westernised, university-educated and experienced in ecclesiastical administration – the JC of 20 December, 1844, challenged him to handle the controversy in a “temperate” way. It suggested that the ringleaders were “a few unlearned laymen”, though the truth is that at least two – Abraham Mocatta and Francis Goldsmid – were quite orthodox and probably exerted a conservative influence on their colleagues and maybe even on Marks himself. Explaining how he saw his role, Adler said there were two groups in the community – those who wished to move ahead quickly, too quickly, and those who would rather not move at all. He insisted that though he would be “the watchman, the guardian, the preserver of the holy law” and would declare what the law permitted and what it prohibited, he would take every opportunity to increase peace and lessen strife.
Many placed high hopes on Adler restoring peace in the community. On 18 July The Voice of Jacob thought that peace was imminent and carried a letter with the call, “Brethren of the Burton-street synagogue, come back to the fold”, though the writer admitted that many people had problems with issues such as the second days of festivals but had no intention of making rulings for themselves.
Marks continued to expound his views from the pulpit, and the JC generally printed his addresses verbatim. A second major statement of theology came in a pamphlet published in 1854 under the title, “The Law is Light” – another powerful polemic which takes issue with Adler, who is not specifically named but identified as “a religious teacher who is regarded as a high authority by the larger portion of the Jews of this empire”.
In a defence of the Oral Law, Adler had said that without traditional exegesis, “every doctrine, every ordinance, and every law” (Marks’ words) “would be a sealed book, a riddle without solution”. Does this mean, says Marks, that Judaism is not determined by Moses but by “some teachings that are not found in the Bible at all”? If Jews reject the Christian claim of infallibility for New Testament interpretations, is not Adler propounding “the substance, tho’ in a different phraseology, of the theology of Rome?” If Judaism places such store on rabbinic texts, why read the Torah on Sabbaths? Marks admits that the written Law is not necessarily “sufficient to enable every Israelite to perform each ceremonial rite in precisely the same manner as it was observed by the men who came out of Egypt” – but he insists that the Scriptural text contains “all that constitutes Jewish doctrine, all that involves moral action and instruction”. Jews respect the Talmud as a source of advice but need not accept it unconditionally nor need every Jew study the whole of rabbinic writing. Though there are “many wise expositions”, “the best of men may at times go wrong”. There are many different views amongst the sages, and some are confusing. Some teachings are ethical: others are “of a different stamp”, degrading women and insulting gentiles. Marks concludes, “Grievous injury (is) inflicted upon Judaism by those who have endeavoured to stamp as obligatory the whole of the ritual precepts and the social laws contained in the Shulchan Aruch”.
Marks seems to have read Adler’s sermon selectively. Adler was explaining that it is the Oral Law which allows Judaism to move into new areas and eras, so long as the movement is cautious and within the system. It seems that the orthodox Adler had a more progressive approach than Marks, the reformer! Marks, however, differed from American reform, which in 1885 stated: “We recognise in the Mosaic legislation a system of training the Jewish people for its mission during its national life in Palestine, and today we accept as binding only its moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilisation”. Whilst Marks regarded Biblical ceremonies as applicable, his successor, Morris Joseph, said his own position was midway between strict orthodoxy and radical liberalism.
As well as criticising the Oral Law in general, Marks continued to maintain that there was no Biblical basis for the second days of the festivals. The fact seemed to be that many nominally orthodox Jews did not bother themselves with the second days; some presumably did not keep the first days either. When Burton Street officially abandoned the second days, the JC was full of the repercussions for weeks. Adler responded to Marks’ constant criticism in a sermon at the New Synagogue, Great St Helen’s, on the second day of Passover, 1868. He defended the second days on three counts: “That the celebration of the Second Days is intimately connected with the whole system of our chronology; that it serves as the bond of our nationality; that it is in full accordance and entire consistency with our holy law.” Marks, though, was not the only one to question Adler’s arguments. The subject was debated widely in the Jewish press. People asked, if the chief rabbi meant that having second days enabled the whole Jewish people to observe the festivals simultaneously, how did that help when Passover, the spring festival, fell in the autumn in the Antipodes? If two days were necessary, why should Yom Kippur be only one day? A letter to the editor from “An Orthodox Jew” said Adler had tried but failed to vindicate a usage that could not be defended.
The Elkan Adler Collection in New York contains some handwritten notes by the chief rabbi, presumably from about the same date, responding to “the Pamphleteers” whose tracts opposed the Adler position. Marks is not mentioned by name, but the arguments ascribed to the “pamphleteers” represent the Marks camp. An example is the view that the second days are “opposed to the law which enjoins not to add”: the Book of Deuteronomy (4:2) states, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor diminish from it”. Adler explains that the second days do not add to the Torah but remove problems in applying the it and are part of a whole system of calendrical checks and balances. There is no second day of Yom Kippur because “we are exempted from fasting Yom Kippur two days from the danger of such a practice”. We cannot be certain whether it was Adler or Marks who had the better of this controversy, but it was probably Marks who had more public support though this was not necessarily the case in regard to the Oral Law problem as a whole.
At this time, Jews in England had the benefit of considerable social and cultural emancipation – some had country estates and were patrons of the arts – but until 1858 they could not sit in Parliament without taking an oath “on the true faith of a Christian”. In to other lands this would not have been such a deprivation, but in England the right to sit in parliament was the symbol of Jewish acceptability. Some of the opponents of Jewish emancipation criticised Jews on the basis that their rabbinic tradition brought their civic loyalty into doubt. Hence the reform movement’s claim that by rejecting the authority of the Talmud they were aiding the emancipatory process. It should be noted that on the Continent, religious reform was already a weapon in the struggle for emancipation. In England, therefore, the linking of reform with emancipation explains why the Oral Law debate could not be limited to pure theology. It would go too far to claim that emancipation was achieved because of Marks but he might have thought so.
Marks was only a mediocre theologian and scholar but he shone as a preacher. Hermann Gollancz spoke of “the power, the fascination, and the earnestness of this eloquent preacher… Far beyond the fascination of his speech was the fascination of his personality and his kindliness of manner… And then how great was the power he wielded in his contact with those outside our community!” Moses Margoliouth, a former Jew, called Marks “a very able and intelligent man” whose preaching was “very powerful and eloquent”. The Jewish press and community all agreed that “the success of the Reform Synagogue is mainly owing to the weekly sermons by its eloquent minister” (Hebrew Review, 20 April, 1860). As Marks was more or less self-taught in Hebraic sources, so was he self-taught in preaching technique, though he probably visited the churches and listened to the great Christian divines. In and out of the pulpit he was a powerful figure; his battles lost their early fire, but they are a significant chapter in Anglo-Jewish history.
His wife Cecilia, the daughter of Mosely Woolf of Birmingham, died in 1882. They had two daughters and four sons including Harry Hananel Marks, a member of parliament and proprietor/editor of The Financial Times. Marks himself died at Maidenhead on 3 May, 1909 and was buried at Ball’s Pond Cemetery.
David Woolf Marks, Rev Prof's Timeline
November 22, 1811
London, United Kingdom
April 9, 1855
London, Greater London, United Kingdom